Tuesday, July 01, 2014

An Execution

Here's another prompt from Brian Kiteley's The 3 A.M. Epiphany:
An Execution — Gather together three or four ordinary people. Let them meet in a businesslike environment—a conference room, a grade-school classroom after school hours, a hotel room that is part of a suite so the bed is out of sight. These three or four people are going to decide to put someone to death. They are not government officials, rogue CIA agents, Mafia lieutenants—they're just plain folks. And the person they choose to execute is also a run-of-the-mill person just like them, except he is slated for death.
Constructive criticism is welcome.

     A broad man sat, ornate table in the center of a decorated room. Removing his lips from a chicken leg, he asked a question of the 3 others who sat at the table with him. “Why do you think we’re here?”

     The man who sat directly across from him—with exaggerated facial features that made him appear rodent like—looked up from his plate. He had been closely observing the most tender bit of beef, which had been seasoned and smoked to perfection, but his eyes darted quickly to the other man and then back to his food. “It doesn’t matter. Be happy. Eat something and be quiet.”

     “Yeah. It’s not often that the benefactor invites people into his home for a feast,” said the busty woman as she plucked grapes from the stem. “We might as well enjoy it.”

     The broad man stood up, backing away from his plate. “That’s just it. Have you ever met anyone who’s been in here before?” He walked over to the glass wall the overlooked the walled entrance. On this side of the wall was a beautiful fountain surrounded by an unimaginable elaborate garden. On the other side: barely inhabitable ruins. “It seems odd.”

     “Hey, I recognize you now,” said the rodent fellow pointing at the broad man. “You’re the butcher, aren’t you?”

     “Yeah. I am.” The broad one turned around. “I don’t know you. Who are you? Some kind of scavenger?”

     “As a matter of fact, I am.” He said, leaning back in his chair. He turned to the busty woman but didn’t look her directly in the eyes. “I’ve heard stories about the cut of his meats,” he chuckled. “I’m sure he’d be willing to make you some kinda deal for a nice dagmeat ste—.”

     A forth voice finally made itself heard. “Shut your mouth, scavenger.” A darkhaired woman sat low to her empty plate. She pushed herself to her feet. “I do know someone who’s been in here. Or I did. My brother got an invitation to a feast once, but he never came back.”

     A door on the far end of the room opened, and a man holding a shining serving platter stepped into the dining hall. The butcher turned around and called to the man. “You there, what’s the meaning of this? Why are we here?” The figure walked forward into the light. The light from the window caught the man’s jaw and reflected from the polished metal plate that covered the lower half of his face. He would not speak. Instead he stood there until the butcher approached him and found an envelope on the platter. He opened the envelope and read aloud its singular contents.

     “One person from your village will be executed. Together, you will choose who dies.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Cheerful Spectator

Here's another prompt from Brian Kiteley's The 3 A.M. Epiphany for which I have nothing good to write:
The Cheerful Spectator — Introduce to yourself a narrator intimate to a story but outside it as well. The wonderful effect of a narrator who is intertwined with a story, but also essentially unimportant to its outcome is that you have more leisure to explore the complexities of the plot, the kinks in it, and the gaps of knowledge this cheerful spectator is going to have.
This is the third consecutive prompt from this book that has presented itself like a brick wall.  I tried to come up with something.  Anything.  But nothing came. Instead, I found myself drawn back to an old idea (from Oct. 2004), and even then I didn't really fulfill the prompt's central challenge.  I'm on to something, though.  I'm tinkering with this thing.  Let me know what you think.

     I'm tired of the suburbs. I would like to escape, but I can't leave while she's here. She's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. Like a beautiful flower that sprouts up in the space between two slabs of the eternal sidewalk in Christopher Meadows. She's something different in this suburban sprawl of the same. Every house is the same, inhabited by the same family. Over and over and over into infinity.

     The only problem is that I'm no exception to the rule of law here. I'm just the youngest of 7 boys, and it's seems to have fallen on me to maintain the status quo until I get my own personal kingdom in the sky or something.

     The first time I tried to speak to her did not go as planned. I always made sure to leave my house at the same time as this girl from across the street and 4 houses down. 2108 Johnsway Drive. As long as I did that, I would never be late to school because I always ride my bike. But it didn't take me very long to realize that this girl that I kept zooming past was—like I already said—the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. I really wanted to talk to her, but every time I went extra slow, we’d both get to school before I could figure out what to say.

     It took me about a block and a half to work up enough courage to ride up next to her. "Good morning," I said.

     "Oh," she said, having not noticed me until that very moment. "Hi."

     She just kept walking, and I just kept riding, both of us silent. I wasn't really sure what to say. I hadn't quite thought that far ahead. I was actually still pretty amazed that I managed to make it this far.

     Thankfully, she broke the silence. "You live down the street, right?"

     "Yeah. I'm Peter." After introducing yourself, the polite thing to do is shake hands, but you should never try to shake someone’s hand while riding a bike. You'll lose control and almost wreck. Then she will laugh at you. Then you would have to expertly regain control and finish introducing yourself. It’s a good thing that I definitely didn't do those things. "I'm Peter Drugal."

     "Hi, Peter," she said, not still laughing at the thing that I didn't do.

     "You can call me Pete."

     "A pleasure to meet you, Pete. I'm Andrea Snow."

     And then we got to school. I know it’s kind of a boring start for a story, so it’s a good thing that it’s only the start for a story.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Ironist & The Last Days of Raltor

Yesterday, I decided to tackle following prompt from Brian Kiteley's The 3 A.M. Epiphany:
The Ironist — Create an observer of events outside her own direct experience, someone who knows more than she lets on, who jokes with us (the readers) but who also indirectly reveals a complex reading of events she is describing.
When I started working with Brian Kiteley's challenges in 2008, I couldn't produce anything interesting for exercises 9 and 10. In fact, I could hardly generate ideas for these. I eventually got frustrated with these, so I just put the book away. When I attempted exercise 9 again six months ago, I didn't fare much better (read that one here), but I did write something. But after I wrote that little pile of garbage, I certainly wasn't motivated to continue... until yesterday.

I spent a little time flipping through my pocket-sized moleskine idea book, and I found little premise that I had jotted down quite some time ago. What follows is the intersection of that idea and the aforementioned writing prompt.

     Calvin Bishop hadn't written a single decent line of text in 2 weeks. Or had it been 4? I’m not really sure. I’m just writing a story about a guy writing a story. In any case, Calvin hadn't been productive in a while, and his publisher wasn't very happy about it. They had been expecting a draft of the first half of his new story, and when he sent them a 50-page manuscript, they decided he needed some assistance. The only problem was that the company was short-staffed. The uncertain nature of print media had forced the company to scale back in order to be more “efficient,” more “agile,” and more “able to adapt to the ever changing market.”

     Personally, I’d love to write a few paragraphs detailing how this changing market resulted in all of the middle-tier writers creating a thriving market for medium quality self-published books, while the bottom-tier writers all left the industry, but that’s not really what this story is about. Also, that sentence was far too long to be enjoyably read.

     Calvin Bishop was one of the company’s more lucrative authors, relatively speaking. And in spite of his recent setbacks, they needed him to put out another book, so the company put an intern on an airplane (economy class, of course) to help Calvin get back on track.

     The way I see it, Calvin is one of those writers who has a great deal of technical skill, but he tended to tread the same ground over and over again. Consider Calvin’s most popular character: a fantasy warrior named Raltor. Raltor had been the protagonist of half a dozen books set in a generic fantasy world, Xor, which was as well constructed as teenager’s tabletop roleplaying game campaign. Incidentally, there was thriving community of fans on the internet that created a tabletop game based on the world. How recursive is that? I suppose it’s worth mentioning that this very same, highly dedicated fan community maintained a very thorough Xor Wiki, which—if you’re not sure what a Wiki is—is a user-maintained database filled with detailed information about the characters, places, and objects that made up Xor. At first, he was quite flattered by this, but somewhere around the 10th book, he began to feel constrained by the world that he had created. I think he published the first few books before he had a good idea of what the world would be like, so there were details in his later books that retroactively modified tiny parts of his earlier works. The details were minute, of course, but the mind of the internet reveals all such detail. Anyway, I really don’t want to give you the idea that Calvin was a bad writer. I mean, he’s accomplished a great deal more than I have. I just want to make it clear that he is most certainly stuck in a rut at the beginning of this story. And so that was when he started working with the intern from the publishing company.

     Actually let me start just a bit further back for dramatic effect. Let’s say that Calvin was working, or at least he had been trying to work. He ended up watching a few videos on the internet and falling asleep on his desk. At some point he shifted his arm on top of the keyboard, which caused him to write twenty pages of something like this:


This was easily the best thing he had produced in several days. It’s really unfortunate to see such a talent languish, but thankfully this is just the beginning of the story. This is when the first important plot point of Calvin’s story takes place; that is to say that this is the point where I introduce the reader—you—to the intern. And I’d like to do so with a knock at the door. Actually, it was several knocks at the door; it took a while for Calvin to wake up and notice that he was about to have company.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More "Dark Days"

Sometimes, the inspiration for a story comes so suddenly and so vividly that I fear it will disappear just as completely and without warning. More often than not it begins with the shadow of a memory that changes and becomes something new, something fictional. Such an idea was born in me a few days ago, and I've been in its grip ever since.

What follows is the smallest piece of a larger piece that I'm adding to the tentatively titled "Dark Days" (read another excerpt here), which I think I started around 10 years ago.

     They stood there for a few silent minutes just blowing smoke. The whole time, Dan was trying to think of some way to break the silence, preferably by saying something that would make himself seem interesting. "She might come back." He immediately regretted choosing this particular subject.


     "Do you come here often?"

     "No. What did you just say?"

     Dan just shrugged and forced a half smile. "Nothing important." He didn’t take himself so seriously that he couldn’t see some small bit of humor in the start of what would likely be a rather awkward conversation, probably the last conversation he would have with Krissy.

     She walked over to one of the other smokers in the alley, a big guy who was under dressed for the slight chill in the night air. "Excuse me," she said. "Can I ask you a question?"

     "Ehyeah, sure," he said, putting a cloud of smoke into the air above him.

     "Let’s say you see your neighbor’s girlfriend walk out of his apartment carrying a box with a houseplant, a heavy jacket (in April, mind you), and half a dozen records. Is she coming back, or are they done?"

     "Oh, they’re over."

     Dan shrugged. Perhaps, the finality of what had happened with Samantha would make the whole recovery process easier. At least there would be no messy in between period where he would attempt to give chase while having all of his efforts redirected into some ambiguously temporary arrangement of friendship involving him being the token outsider in whatever new social circle offered up the new man she was probably seeing. For better or worse—probably better—there would be no room for speculation or confusion or even second chances. Rather, it was simply finished. He would be forced to move on; not that doing so would be effortless or immediate. It could take a long time to move on.

     "Hey," she said, pulling him out of his reverie. "You want to go back inside?"

     "Sure." He tossed the smoking butt of his cigarette into the alley and stepped after her. "Then again," he whispered to himself. "Maybe not that long."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Cows are 10 Years Old

Almost exactly 10 years have passed since I sat down to write my very first short story. I had spent a few years filling my head with the words of Ray Bradbury and George Orwell, and I believed that I was ready to write some impactful piece of apocalyptic fiction just as they had. I'm really glad that, in spite of my lack of experience, I had the guts to take on a couple of the greatest authors of the 20th century. Their work inspired me to begin my own, and I was awfully proud of it... at the time.

What follows is as an early draft of that first story. It's fairly easy to see my attempt at Bradbury even though the story itself needs much revision.  I am working on a drastic rewrite of the story to make it something worth reading.

And so I present to you "Until the Cows Came Home".

     Ever so slowly the red sun rose on Lake Victoria. Two aged men sat in a small metal boat, fishing polls held loosely in their wrinkled hands.

     "Fish don’t seem to be bitin’ much today, do they Lenny?"

     "Well, we haven’t caught a single fish from this old pond in 10 years." Lenny looked out over the pond and the burnt skies reflected in its waters. He leaned over the side of the boat and looked at his own reflection in the green, muddy water—the same water that had been crystal clear when they were children. He took a deep, patient breath and let loose a soft sigh. "I remember when we were young kids… we would sit almost every day out here and fish till…." He paused for a moment at the sound of distant gun fire. "Till the cows came home."

     An odd look came over Sam’s face. He was apparently perplexed. "Hmm…Cows…I can’t seem to remember the cows." He nervously fingered his fishing line.

     "Sorry, it’s just an old, old figure of speech."

     "Are we old, Lenny?"

     "Yes, I’m afraid so, Sam." He spoke gently towards his senile friend. Lenny looked into the water and smiled to his reflection. In a way Sam had become a child again.


     "Yes, Sam."


     "Yes, Sam." Lenny looked up into the sky. He listened carefully to a far-off whistling noise, which after a few moments stopped. A low rumbling noise followed. The water beneath the boat slowly rippled outward.

     "What’s that?" asked Sam as dark cloud rose over the horizon.

     What was it? It was a tool of destruction, an element of war, a display of aggression: a bomb. "Why, that is our ride home."

     "How much longer till it gets here?"

     "Not long." Sam’s wristwatch began beeping. He looked at it confused, obviously having forgotten its purpose. A soft, melodic robotic voice spoke out from the tiny band: Time to take our medicine Samuel. It repeated itself. Lenny reached over and switched the tiny voice off. All the while Sam watched Lenny with child-like curiosity. He then reached into Sam’s tackle box and presented a small plastic bottle.

     "What’s that?" asked Sam.

     "This is your Alzheimer’s medicine." Lenny twisted off the top of the translucent brown bottle and poured the small blue pills into his hands.

     "What’s Alzheimer’s?" asked Sam.
Sam had asked this question on several occasions since he began loosing his memory. Each time, Lenny got better at explaining it. "It’s a monstrous disease that lives inside of you, and without warning it destroys all of your memories and turns you back into a child. These tiny little pills hold your memories, and when the monster comes, they remind you of who you are. They re-acquaint you with yourself." With that Lenny lifted his hand into the air and threw the pills out into the blue water.

     "Oh no! Why did you do that?"

     "Don’t worry, old friend. Once we get home, you’ll not need them anymore." Slowly a whistling noise grew overhead, steadily growing louder.

     "It’s time to go. Are you ready?" By now the whistling had grown deafeningly loud.

     "Oh, yes." Sam’s attention was drawn from the sky back to the water. "Look!" He shouted over the noise. "I’ve got one."

     The whistling stopped. "I guess so." Lenny whispered to himself. A split second later a blinding light surrounded the two old men and their tiny boat. "I guess so."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Historical Omniscience & The Hard Days

I've been trying my hardest to devote a small bit of time to writing every day.  I haven't really been successful or disciplined in my approach, but I figure that any small victory in my methods will result in me eventually becoming a better writer.  And so, I persist.

There are days when the words flow naturally, and I end up producing something that is relatively interesting.  When this happens, I feel the most profound sense of personal fulfillment.  This is is an extraordinary feeling, and it motivates me to continue.

Then there are days that what I produce is almost entirely uninspired.  I beat my head against the topic until I can coax the smallest amount of prose out, and even then, I'm left with something that I'm not at all proud of.  These are the moments that I become intimately familiar with my limitations and weaknesses.  I know that I must expect these sorts of days to happen, but they do nothing to feed the flames. Today was a day like this.

Here is my response to the following prompt from Brian Kiteley's The 3 A.M. Epiphany:
Historical Omniscience — Write about an event set well in the past, twenty or one hundred years ago. Write from above, as if by means of researched opinion (but I suggest that you do little actual research). By this I mean write about several historical characters or an interesting event, imagining any POV you want.

     I always dreamed of sailing across the ocean. As a child, I imagined that there might be something on the other side of the water, perhaps some promised land where only the things that I wanted to happen would happen. I could run wild amongst the green hills until I found the perfect place to settle myself. Then I’d build a home, take a wife, and raise as many children as possible before my beard would grow long and grey. All I’d need is a big enough boat. The reality of travel on the sea is much less glamorous than I had dreamed of.

     At the end of an exceedingly unsuccessful search for work in Spain—little surprise given that my ruddy hair clearly identifies me as a foreigner, I snuck aboard a ship headed for the fabled “new world.” This is a capital offence, for which I am luck not to have been tossed overboard immediately. The captain shouted something in his Spanish, and I was dragged, according to the least gentle method the ship hands could devise, to the bottom of the ship. Here I was locked in a room. The “bergantín” as they call it. Occasionally, they would bring me water and less often a piece of stale bread or spoiled cheese.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Something That I Strongly Dislike!

It's poetry.

That's right. I've never really been a fan of poetry as a medium. I think I've always viewed it as something of an inferior medium, which isn't really surprising given my obsession with plot arcs. I will always prefer the infinite effability of prose.

In my experience, most amateur poetry is only meaningful to it's author. Take for example this piece that I wrote on January 30, 2012, while on the road.

Aren't we all just pendulums swinging
Back and forth through the naked possibility
Today I am comfortable abroad
But one swing will render me a foreigner in the home of my father
I hope for the rhythm of our arcs to coincide with one another
Just one collision and the bliss of subsequent entanglement
Yet only a matter of time will find our lines too complicated
And the only way out will be to cut the ties
Then what do we have left?
Then what are we?

So what in the heck does that even mean? You tell me. And while you're at it, you should try to convince me that poetry is somehow equal in power to prose.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reworking "Dark Days"

At one point, I decided that the best way to add value (read that with a dollar sign) to my work was to stop posting story drafts on this blog. I assumed that no one would want to eventually buy a collection of my short stories in print if it could all be read for free on my blog. One could say several bad things about that line of logic, not the least of which is that it makes me sound like a selfish sort of character that cares more about money than writing a good story. And that is not the spirit with which I created this blog.

Thinking about it now, I'm not sure what circumstance would make disappearing from this blog a beneficial move. Nothing good can be said about a blog that hasn't had a new post in over a year. Let's move on.

What follows is all that I have completed from a drastic reworking that I have planned for what may or may not be the very first "short story" that I ever constructed. I have some ideas about where I'd like to take the story but little idea of how to get there. I'm stuck.

     I first met Dan after his girlfriend broke up with him. And when I say "after," I mean immediately after. Of course, I didn't know this at the time. I was reading a book in the park, a compact edition of the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe. I think it was pleasant outside, which is only important to know because the park is always a little crowded on days like that. Normally, I’d have enjoyed being around so many people on a beautiful day, but today I got the sad guy. Fantastic.

     He was sitting on the bench next to me in the park. It’s not uncommon to sit next to a stranger in the park when the weather is nice, and I wouldn't have noticed Dan if he hadn't been weeping, but he was. Bent over in the seat with his head in his hands. Clearly, he was trying to hide his state, but I could hear the muffled gasps for breath that only occur when you’re swallowing a sob.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Prologue to a Different Past

In honor of Columbus Day, I offer up a prologue that I quite recently wrote. It is by all accounts a rough draft, but it outlines the events leading up to a story that I haven't even begun to write yet. Some day, I might finish one of these stories that are set in my mythological world. As my ambition often outpaces my abilities, it might take me twenty years, so don't hold your breath.

Did I mention that I want to include dwarven-engineered steam-punk deforestation-mecha? It could become a train wreck of hyphenation!

     By the most careful of my estimations, little more than 200 years have passed since the most courageous men in the country found the other world. on the first day of the first year of what has come to be known as the Century of the World, Captain Benjamin Bruford set out with a fleet of 6 vessels in hopes of finding the fabled land far to the west, marking the very precipice of the world's edge.

     The great Captain Bruford, however, was by no means a young man when he embarked on this journey. After a decade of conducting business at sea, or what the royal families called piracy in the highest degree, Captain Bruford was captured by the Royal Armada of the Bretting Empire. All of his treasure that they could find was confiscated, and he was imprisoned for a number of years, during which time he began to compose a series of essays based on his observations at sea. This included notes on everything from sea life to the patterns of the winds and stars to his own conclusion that the Empire's lands made up only a small part of the ring of a great bowl that held the oceans together.

     It was with this in particular that the royal families became enamored. They agreed to put an end to the search for his remaining treasure and pardon his crime if he would claim the western edge of the world on behalf of the Bretting Empire. Over the next six months, Captain Bruford assembled a small fleet of 3 ships, only to have the Empire insist on an escort of matching size in avoidance of potential betrayal.

     During the voyage, the fleet was waylaid by a violent storm, during which two of the six ships were destroyed. Captain Bruford fought the wind and waves for three sleepless nights, which left his right arm crippled. When the storm finally cleared, the fleet had found land. The wreckage of the two lost ships had run aground, and most of the crew had survived to the shore.

     This grand new world that they had discovered was heavily occupied by forests, which in turn were heavily occupied by an odd old race of people, made most notable by their fair countenances and acutely angled ears. Captain Bruford began compiling notes on the new land over a period of two months, deciphering what he could from the local tribes. His reports were then to be conveyed back to the Empire by the escorting vessels, as the return journey would be impossible given the Captain's injuries. However, Captain secretly prepared a lock box containing copies of Bruford's completed memoirs, which included the locations of his remaining treasures. Coded instructions were engraved into the box itself, which was itself to be conveyed to Bruford's sons by his first mate.

     And thus, the remaining four ships departed with as much of the crew as desired to return home. Those who returned to the home in the Empire did so as heroes. All that remained was for the Empire to extend their power to this new found land, and no one anticipated it to be as bloody and hard-fought a conflict as it was.

     This I know all too well.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Iterative and Incremental (Narrative) Development

A few weeks ago, I promised that I'd draw a connection between software development and writing, which forms the logical basis behind how I've been writing (or attempting to write) in recent months. However, I'm not going to draw this unsurprising connection without first boring you with a little personal background.

The 5 years that I spent in college chasing my first bachelors degree were not spent studying writing (as this blog might lead you to believe), but rather the supposedly lucrative field of "Computer and Information Technology".

One of the topics that I found particularly interesting were the agile software development methodologies, most of which were generally associated with iterative and incremental development, which is based on the idea that software can be broken into logical increments that can be developed in cyclic iterations.

You might be wondering how this applies in any reasonable way to writing. To be honest, it's not as complicated as you might think. Let's demystify:
  1. Initial Planning: This is the first step of the process, in which a software development team would define the software they mean to develop in the simplest terms.

    Do that. Write a paragraph to summarize your idea. You can even think of said paragraph as a teaser you might read on the back of the hypothetical book you're writing.
  2. Planning and Requirements: This is where the development team would define in the first logical increment in their project and document the technology that would be required to make it work.

    What you should do at this point is consider what you want to accomplish with the segment of the narrative that you're working with. What should happen? What characters need to be involved? Where should it take place?

  3. Analysis/Design and Implementation: At this point the development team would define in much greater detail the logical workings of the functional increment they are working on. This is immediately followed by implementation, during which they build the increment.

    Likewise, you'll be writing the part of your narrative that you've decided to tackle. This is seemingly the most straightforward step in each iteration, but it should prove to be the most time consuming part.

  4. Testing: During this phase, software development teams test the software they've written to make sure that works as expected.

    Proofread your work. Does it make sense? Does it accomplish what you decided that it should accomplish a few phases ago?

  5. Evaluation: This phase is incredibly important for iterative and incremental development. The development team tests the functional element that they've been working on to make sure that it works within the context of the rest of the system.

    At this point you should examine what you've writing to make sure that it doesn't break the story or contradict other parts of your story. This is absolutely critical to the cohesiveness of your narrative.

  6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 until...
    Deployment: The development team delivers a completed software project.

    And you're done!
The good news about this method as it applies to writing is that it can be as formal or informal as you want it to be. You can write short iterations of a few paragraphs at a time or pages at a time with fewer iterative cycles. You can even build the writing in any order you like... just as long as you pay attention during the evaluation phase. The key to this method as with any creative process is to find what works for you.

Friday, February 06, 2009


It's been several months since I've posted anything, and in that time I've been fighting it out with a pretty mean writers block.  I might just be winning the battle right now.

What follows is a writing exercise from Brian Kiteley's The 3 A.M. Epiphany:
An Execution — Write a fragment of a story that is made up entirely of imperative commands: Do this; do that; contemplate the rear end of the woman who is walking out of your life. This exercise will be a sort of second-person narration (a you is implied in the imperative).

     Pull on a black mask and step out of the van. Run to the door. Swiftly enter the bank. Lift your gun-holding hand into the air and your voice along with it.

     “Get on the ground!” Grab the burlap sack from your accomplice. Throw it at a teller. Order her not to do anything stupid. “Don’t panic! Just give us the money!” Shake the gun at the scared patrons. “Don’t even think about moving if you want to live!” Walk to the women crying in the corner. Ask her if she’s got any children. “Get up! Go tell your children you love them.” Smile as the woman scurries through the glass doors and out onto the street. Hear the sirens begin to wail in the distance. “Hurry up, Kennedy! Grab the money!” Take the sack from the accomplice. “Get the van.” Hear the sirens growing louder. Point to man in the expensive suit. “Get up! Come with me.” Nod toward the van as it pulls up to the doors. “Get in.” Follow the man through the glass doors. Hear the sirens growing louder still. Open the door. Push the man into the van. “Step on it, Kennedy.” Feel the van’s tires screech underneath you. Look back at the man. “Move and you die.” Lurch forward as one of the van’s rear tires is blown out.

     “Pull the vehicle over now!”

     “Don’t stop, Kennedy.” Feel the van swerve as another tire is blown out, causing the van leave the road. Brace yourself as the van tumbles down the embankment. Slam into the windshield as the van enters a retention pond. Push on the door. Kick against the door. Give up on the door. Think frantically of a way to escape the van. “Help me, Kennedy!” Kick the windshield. Try to remain calm as the remains of the windshield give way and water begins to rush in. Hold your breath as the water fills the van. Swim to the back of the van, and push it open. Barely make it to the surface before passing out. Swim to the shore.

     “Don’t move!” Drop to your knees when the police officers approach you, guns bared. Allow yourself to be handcuffed and dragged to a police car. Exhale deeply as the door is closed on your life.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Reason and Rhythm, Part 2

For me, my passion for writing had it's beginnings in 5th grade. One of my teachers, Mrs. Douglas, required her students to keep a journal. At first, I viewed this assignment as a chore and was unenthusiastic about journaling. I mean, what about my 10-year-old life was worth writing down in my stupid blue, wide-ruled notebook: nothing... or so I thought.

It wasn't long before my little notebook began to become a repository for all of the important goings on in my life and the lives of the people I thought were cool. I wrote about basketball, cute girls, strange dreams, books I was reading, spiritual encounters, toys, and just about everything else. Ever since then, I've had an undeniable compulsion to chronologically catalogue all of the highs and lows as they occur.

The principle that Mrs. Douglas was trying to instill in us is that of making writing a habitual occurrence. I would encourage you to do the same thing. Set aside a notebook and an amount of time specifically for journaling.

You may, as I once did, view this as an exercise in futility. You may think that you can remember all you need to remember about life in your mind or with photographs or in video recordings. However, you'll find no better way to capture the richness of the emotional texture in your life either in the daily grind or the most unique of moments.

With a little discipline, you'll may come to find view these moments spent journaling as an investment into your future. Think of each entry as an opportunity to snapshot some otherwise un-keep-able gem of your life that would otherwise disappear into the folds of time. Sometime, you'll crack open this treasure trove you call a journal and feel like the wealthiest time traveler.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Mind-Blowing Breakfast

I had a very strange dream a few nights ago.  In keeping with my advice from my last post (read that here), I decided to write down what I could remember.  I peppered in a few embellishments here and there, but the story remains just as bizarre as the night I experienced it.

     Adam stood in the center of a blacktop basketball court, having no idea how or why he would have gone there. The paint lines were faded from the countless footfalls they had received, and the nets were worn to almost nothing.

     The tall brick buildings looked oppressive. They appeared to have received the same amount of wear that the court had experienced. But for all of the use that this place had seen, Adam could not find a single person. He walked.

     After having walked for a few blocks, he found a courtyard in the center of a few of these apartment buildings whose only tenants must be ghosts. The courtyard had been overgrown before a lack of care had resulted in the death of any plant life. Brown foliage hung limp from every bush and tree.

     Then he heard a percussive shuffling noise from behind him. Startled, Adam spun on his heels. An gaunt-looking young woman stood with hand on hip. Three younger girls, identical triplets, hid behind the woman and stared from behind her waist.

     "I've got what you need." The woman produced a cigarette from a pocket, lit it, and took long drag. She coughed as the smoke was pulled into her lungs. "Where's my money."

     "Um...I don't know... what are you talking about?"

     The woman let out a raspy sigh and walked away. Her girls followed in a straight line, skipping along in playful manor.

     Adam, as confused as he was, felt compelled to obtain whatever it was that she held. "Wait! Can I have it?" The woman turned to face him as he searched for his wallet. It wasn't in any of his pockets. For that matter, he couldn't recall ever having owned a wallet. "I'll pay you later."

     "That's not how it works." She turned to walk away.

     "I promise I'll pay you." He found himself pleading for it, although he could not remember what it was that he wanted so badly. "I'm a good person. I'm trustworthy."

     Her facial expression turned from irritation to concern. "No one who buys is trustworthy."

     Adam was struck to the core with some unknown shame. He dropped to his knees as the dead foliage around him seemed to turn black and decay. The woman had disappeared. It seemed as though time had sped up. He felt dizzy from a heightening despair. He shut his eyes and shook his head.

     Looking up, Adam found himself in the basement of a friend's house, a plastic bag sitting in his open hands. Carefully, he unrolled the bag and broke the seal. A delicious smell leaped up out of the bag and into his nostrils: Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs cereal. He couldn't resist the urge to eat.

     As the first few puffs hit his tongue, pleasure receptors throughout his brain fired off and he nearly jumped. However, this pleasure slowly transformed into something very different. The bland-looking basement began to become brighter and more full of color.

     Colorful cartoon mushrooms began to sprout from the floor in bright red and white. Large blossoms sprouted from the walls, emitting 60's era music to match his psychedelic euphoria. From somewhere animals, as of yet unimagined, danced into the room, harmonizing with the joyous songs. Even the lights in the room seemed to gain significance as they alternated through every color of the visual spectrum.

     Adam sat down on top of one of the mushrooms and took in the brilliance that surrounded him.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Reason and Rhythm, Part 1

Sometimes the strangest of life's occurrences are things that don't happen in the waking world. I would encourage you to write about your dreams. Most often these incoherent sequences of image and sound won't yield anything that makes any sense, but once in a while, your subconscious might fabricate something more unusual and elaborate than you could in any other state.

When you write, feel free to add or remove details as you see fit. Your purpose in this doesn't need to be accurate retelling of your REM sleep adventures, although you may choose it to be that way. Personally, I feel pretentious when I write in first person, so I write in third; you should write from any perspective that you prefer.

This might seem like a frivolous exercise, but it serves an important function. Any reason to spend sometime activating the part of your mind that thinks creatively is cause to write. Hopefully, you'll begin to establish a regular rhythm in writing. Your goal should be to feel the desire to write on a daily basis, and to be able to find something to write about just as often.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Find Your Happy Place

One of the things I've learned recently is how easy it is to loose sight of ones inner craftsman. We become discouraged with our writing. We allow the manic nature of day-to-day living to steal away the joy we once found in our writing.

Do not loose hope, my friends!

I would encourage you to secure the border that separates your happy place from the harsh wastelands of rationality. Handcuff the Watcher to a light post just outside the city limits of the creative capitol in your mind. Then go to the steps of your town hall and shout aloud as to how excited you are to write: to create.

Or... perhaps a more practical idea: go to that location where you find the most inspiration and write for a few minutes. Write about how happy writing makes you feel. Write as quickly as you can. Deliver your thoughts to the page with as little filtering as possible.

And if all of life's frustrations have stolen this joy from you, write about how you want to feel when you write. Think about how proud you want to be when some small seed of thought blooms into a matured writing. Remember that, published or not, you are an artist: your words are valuable.

Then when you finish this verbal snapshot of your good-feeling, frame it! If you're like me you may even glean great pleasure from looking at this in its rawest form (sloppy script, misspellings, grammatical errors, and all). If not, feel free to pick out a key phrase or two and write them in your best penmanship on your finest sheet of paper. Now, place it in the aforementioned inspiration location, where you will see it whenever you write.

And when the time comes—and it will—that you begin to feel frustrated or uninspired, look to those words and find your happy place.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Watcher

In Discovering the Writer Within, Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane make reference to an entity inside of all of us that they call the watcher. This watcher is the internal critic that can—if left unchecked—take all of the joy out of writing.  Beyond that, it can rob you of any creativity.  It's nasty, and the your success as a writer begins by silencing this beast.
  • When you write, write as quickly as you can. Don't allow the watcher enough time to jam your creative process with thoughts of penmanship and spelling and syntax.
  • Write whatever you feel like writing. If the ideas that present themselves are disjointed and incoherent, write them down. If you wander off your selected topic, write it down.
  • Enjoy yourself. Don't worry about what other people would think if they read your scribbled words; you should write for yourself first and foremost!
There will be a time for editing and criticizing your work, but it is not now. The best of what you will write will likely prove itself to be that which you spent the least amount of time planning out. Think about the most memorable conversations you've had:  weren't the most alarming and intriguing insights birthed from words that were uttered without forethought.

And as for the watcher... eventually he will become a valuable ally to you in the editing process to use when you see fit. But until then, outrun him!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tod Isn't Part Of It

     It was approaching the cool of the day when she sauntered through the commons area, past Tod, and toward the darker parts of the campus. She was accompanied by a young man: an odd pair. The awkward juxtaposition of his clothes, too loose; and hers, too tight; that highlighted the excess of her exposed flesh. She was clean and possessed a style that Tod found cute, but just on the edge of what he considered provocative.

     Tod palmed his forehead, and his body gave a quick, involuntary shudder as though to shake free the assumption of what intention the young couple might have for the point when the escaped an eye-shot of the sparsely populated commons area. His glance met that of another young man, who wore a shirt with the word "DOOM" painted across it in a unfriendly-looking font.

     Tod had never seen him before, but the young man, just out of normal speaking range, nodded toward the awkward pair and then too him. Tod reciprocated as if to agree as to what the two represented.

     Tod thought to himself that if he were someone allowed a great deal more moral leeway, he could see himself letting her try to take him apart and put him back together again. Then again, he'd be miserable if he had burdened himself with such an encounter.

     That'd make me part of the problem of the problem, wouldn't it? The problem. It was one thing to recognize the biological forces that compelled him to "mate" with any girl that met his fancy, but it was something else entirely to respond to this. Some people thought this process to be nothing more than a species-advancing imperative that was present in all of us, and therefore something not to be denied. Then again, we're not animals.

     Then Tod stumbled upon something inside of himself. A spark. He fed a few of these thoughts into that spark. A small flame: pride. It had not been all that difficult an accomplishment to buck against the primal up to this point in his life. A few more years of celibacy would be simple.

     Slowly, Tod's attention returned to the present time and to the real world. He shook loose a slack-jawed gaze whose focal point lay beyond a wall of columns that supported an over sized clock that dominated the grassy commons area. Late for class!

     Tod snatched his backpack from the bench next to him and shuffled toward the paved walk-way. Leaving the now empty commons area behind him, he hurried to class.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I've heard it said (or perhaps I made up the idea of having heard) that a craftsman may only be as good as the tools that he uses. And, of course, this is likely a gross overstatement, but that's not to say that there isn't merit in this old adage. So, let's talk a little bit about what you tools you need to be a writer.
  1. Figure out what is the most comfortable medium for your writing: is it a sleek-looking new iMac, a sticker-laden composition book, or even a worn vintage typewriter. Whatever it is, recognize it's importance in your creative life. And like any healthy relationship, you'll need to set aside plenty of time to spend with it.
  2. I would recommend having something that is portable to carry with you at all times. My personal preference is a pocket-sized moleskine notebook (moleskine, incidentally, has a interesting and debatable history that you can read here). This will allow you to jot down ideas as they come to you. This is of particular importance because inspirations comes without warning and, more importantly, leaves in similar fashion.

Honestly, there are countless ways that you can record your ideas. Try a few, and learn what best facilitates the flow of your ideas. Then go forth and begin your collecting.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

First Things First

The word "fiction" is derived from the Latin word fingere, "to form, create".


I've always thought that it was something of the good Lord inside of us that drives us to "create" things weather it be stories or music or paintings or even a really nice cake. Humans love to make things, and we take pride in what we make. However, the purpose of this blog is not to force my philosophical ideas on any unsuspecting reader, but rather to explore some of my ideas about writing (and, more specifically, writing fiction).

And of course, I'll probably choose to post some of my own works because I can do whatever I want.